Despite second round KO, Leef eager to go again

Whitehorse's Ryan Leef suffered his second professional mixed martial arts (MMA) loss at Armageddon Fighting Championship 4 (AFC 4) in Victoria on Saturday. But he's not down for the count in the sport.

Whitehorse’s Ryan Leef suffered his second professional mixed martial arts (MMA) loss at Armageddon Fighting Championship 4 (AFC 4) in Victoria on Saturday.

But he’s not down for the count in the sport.

Exemplified by such commentator comments like, “Hats off to Leef for his toughness,” Leef showed some Yukon grit in his bout against a more experienced fighter, BC’s Corey Gower, but eventually took a knockout loss during the second round.

“I was pleased with my showing,” said Leef. “Obviously there’s always going to be something we bring back to the next camp – the proverbial drawing board. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the fight and I have what my corner told me and what I recollect, and there’s a few things we know we have to work on.

“I’m fairly new in the sport and we understood some of the weaknesses I’d have going into it, and we’re going to continue to work on those things.”

In what he might describe as an off day, Leef, who has a history in long-distance running, was showing signs of fatigue late in the first round, which ended with Leef countering a Gower choke attempt for about half a minute. Gower won the round by the score of 10-9.

“The only thing I would be disappointed with – if that’s even the right word – was that I felt a bit flat going into Round 2,” said Leef. “It’s unusual for me because I have tremendous cardio and I wasn’t able to maximize that. I wasn’t able to attack my game plan because my cardio wasn’t working for me.

“That’s happened to me once in a while racing. You show up at the start line feeling fit and ready and, for whatever reason, you are just flat.

“I started getting that midway through Round 1.”

Hoping his fitness level would put him on top in the end, Leef planned for his opponent’s aggressive tactics to wear Gower down in the opening rounds before stepping up his attacks in the third when a tired Gower would be prone to making mistakes.

“My fitness would kick in and I would be able to be aggressive,” said Leef. “He was being so aggressive kicking, that it was going to take its toll and he was going to get tired.

“He wasn’t taking any chances or making any mistakes, which shows technically he’s a great fighter and has that bank of experience to know not to make the mistakes.

“Hats off to him for putting together a great fight.”

Gower, who now has a 2-0 professional record, has a much fuller fighting background than Leef was unaware of until the day before the fight, with an amateur record of 10-0 in kickboxing.

“We saw that the night before and adjusted our game plan after that,” said Leef. “It was great to fight a guy with that level of experience and it’s going to make my game sharper.”

Like so many MMA fights, Saturday’s had an abrupt ending. After a double-leg take down attempt Leef maneuvered out of, Gower caught Leef with a punch to the head and managed to get on top of him, dealing him mounted shots until the ref called the fight.

“I stuffed the takedown and attacked right away, and somewhere in that exchange I got hit. I thought it was an upper-cut, but I’m being told it was a left hook,” said Leef. “That shot rattled me.

“I can’t put it together in my head how it went, but I know he got behind me and we went to the mat and he slid over to a full-mount and he started pounding from there.”

Although the commentators were questioning whether the fight was stopped early enough, Leef feels the ref was right on the money.

“I don’t think he did (stopped it late),” said Leef. “It’s always tough for a ref because they want to see if you have the ability to pull yourself out of it. We see too many times where they stop it and the fighter on the ground gets up and says, ‘Why’d you stop it? I could have pulled it out.’

“I know the first couple (punches) I was reaching up, trying to pull him in towards me and suck him in close, which would have taken his shots away from me. He did a really good job of sitting up high where I couldn’t reach his shoulders or arms.

“It’s funny what you think about when you’re in there, but the stadium light was right in my face and I remember looking up and I couldn’t see the punches.”

While it was difficult to distinguish by watching the fight online – it will air on the Fight Network at a later date – in the minutes after the ref stopped the fight and he was attended by trainers and a doctor, Leef was not unconscious nor too disorientated to stand. With bouts that end that way, organizers want to ensure the fighter is OK before helping them up.

“They make you lay down – I wanted to jump right up,” said Leef. “They make you lay down -‘What’s your name? Where are you living? Where are you right now?’ Those kind of questions.”

Leef’s participation in the event, and subsequent conversations with AFC executives, may have some long-term consequences for MMA in the Yukon.

With Leef describing the Yukon’s growing interest in the sport, AFC president Darren Owen is considering organizing an AFC event in Whitehorse.

“We’ve barely looked into it, but it’s something we’re considering doing,” said Owen. “It would be exciting.”

Thanks to some local sponsors – Mic Mac Toyota, Better Bodies Crosstraining Centre and local film production company Low Life Films – Leef was able to bring his striking coach Charles Eshleman and grappling partner John Hawthorne to the fight to work as cornermen.

“A big thanks to Charles and John, who went down and worked my corner, they were fantastic,” said Leef. “It was an absolute advantage to have those guys working the corner – they put in a lot of work. And obviously all the sponsors were huge contributors to how it went for me down there. Unfortunately I didn’t deliver a win for them, but I hope I put on a show that gave them pride in me.”

Despite the loss and his now 0-2 professional fight record, the 36-year-old is determined to get back in the octagon within the next few months.

“Absolutely, there’s no question,” said Leef. “I can’t end on a losing note – that’s for sure.

“You always want to win, but I think I’m where I should be when I’m facing competitors like that. I had some chances and I think sometimes the fight was mine to win and mine to lose.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to keep on going. We know what we need to do, fitness wise and skill wise. I have a good camp and a good training group.

“The more you learn, the more dangerous you become. And I’ve always been a person who learns more from my losses than my victories, and with two ills beneath my belt, I’m learning quickly.”

Talking with AFC executives after the fight, with the toughness he displayed in the fight, Leef is welcome back for another shot.

“Robin Black, who was doing the commentary, said, ‘You’re always welcome back because you’re not running (from your opponent),’” said Leef. “They want someone who’s going to put on a show.”

In his first professional bout, at AFC 2 in March, Leef was beaten by undefeated fighter Diego Wilson (6-0) in just under two minutes. In the fight, Leef was choked out in the opening round, getting pounced on after slipping during a kick.

Leef only began training in self-defence systems in 2000, starting with goshin ryu tai jutsu, in which he now holds a black belt. He went on to expand his field of training through various law-enforcement positions he has occupied over the last decade, including with the RCMP, as a wildlife and games warden with Environment Yukon, and now as deputy superintendent of operations at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

Not only did Leef congratulate Gower on his victory and admit that his opponent deserved the win – this time around – the two actually joined each other for a beer after the fight.

“Right after that Corey and I went and had a beer and watched the bulk of the fights together,” he said. “We both put in long camps before it, and there’s a lot of intensity beforehand at the weigh-ins, but when it’s over, it’s over.

“We had a good time afterwards, chatting about how it went. All the fighters are like that.”

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